Grigory placed the diaphragm of the electronic stethoscope on the boy’s skinny chest, and the kid flinched at the touch of cold metal. Grigory put the earpieces in and listened.
He checked the audio output and hit record on his laptop, watching the screen as blocks of green light appeared and jumped in time with the frantic beat.
“Did you know, my lamb, that, broadly speaking, the tempo of music spans the full range of the human pulse?”
He paused until the boy shook his head.
“The beat of the piece mirrors a heart experiencing the emotion that the song evokes. A lullaby, soft and smooth, mimics your sleeping body as you lie warm in bed, waiting for Morpheus to pay you a visit. A salsa sways your arms, shuffles your feet, and swings your hips. It gets your blood up. How wonderful to be a living metronome. To measure your joy and pain, your comfort and fear in heartbeats. Take your friend over there.” Grigory turned and nodded towards the girl draped on the chaise longue, her eyes rolled back in her head. “The cocktail of substances she’s imbibed tonight have numbed her to the point of catatonia, and induced a state known as bradycardia. She’s down to forty beats per minute. Slow and grave like the opening strains of The Moonlight Sonata.”
The girl groaned softly and Grigory turned his attention back to the boy. He picked up the small dagger which sat on the table next to them, and held it, glinting, in front of the kid’s face. Cold steel reflected the lights from the computer which danced and blinked red as they sped up and peaked. Grigory ran the tip of the blade lightly down the side of the boy’s face until it snagged the fabric of the gag.
“But your heart is fluttering and tripping along at the same speed as the third movement of The Tempest.”
Grigory placed the tip of the knife against his own forearm and scored a deep red line along the length of it. He held it up in front of the boy’s face and watched his eyes grow impossibly wide as the parted skin healed over instantly.
The lights on the laptop screen stuttered, stopped for a couple of seconds, and then leapt into life again.
“Bravo!” Grigory cried, clapping his hands together. “Palpitations will add a delightfully unexpected syncopation to the finished piece.”
The boy whimpered, and a tear slid down his cheek.
“Wait!” Grigory put down the knife and picked up a directional microphone, which he pointed at the boy’s face. “Do that again!”
Behind him, the girl moaned, her head slipping off the side of the couch and lolling about on her neck like a tulip with a broken stem.
“Wait your turn, darling,” Grigory said. “Now this,” he told the boy, “is a little self-indulgent, I’ll admit, but I’m curious to know how many different ways you will say my name before the night is through. I’m going to remove this gag, and I promise you’ll whisper it, sigh it, moan it, scream it. When we’re through, we’ll have created something beautiful. And you will be immortal, beloved. How does that sound?”
Grigory took a sip of bourbon, leaned back in the plush leather armchair and closed his eyes as the song began to play. There was the girl’s sigh, the sound of blood pumping lazily around her veins. The little snuffle and swallow she did with a narcotic-thick tongue which sounded like a piglet suckling. Adorable in a way. Unbearably intimate. And there was the violin, like a baby’s cry, wrenched from ancient wood and catgut, soaring over the dull throb of the boy’s heart. The pitch of the Amati’s wail rose as the heartbeat sped up, building and building until Grigory’s fingers and toes curled with anticipation, and finally the tension was shattered by the boy’s cracked voice shouting the singer’s name. It was a virtuoso performance by any standards, nuanced and coloured with a thousand conflicting sensations and emotions. Grigory had really put the poor kid through the mill. A spine-tingling moment of viscous silence, then a guitar lick overlaid with grunts, snarls, sobs – both Grigory’s and those of his human instruments. The melody, when it began, was punctuated with the hiccupping, kick drum sound of the boy’s terrified heart.
Grigory was still enchanted by the novelty of being able to hear his own voice recorded and played back, to be enjoyed time and time again. For countless ages, his performances had been ephemeral, fleeting things, lingering only in the memories of those he’d moved to tears or raptures with his preternatural vocals. Grigory had seen the proof of his otherworldly skill reflected in the weeping eyes of millions, a talent forged in the angelic realm for a single purpose falling upon ears which were never meant to hear it. A sacred gift turned utterly profane. His influence was still audible in the works of great composers, in the trills of countless flutes, the galloping of nimble fingers across ivory keys. It was in their anguished love letters to mysterious muses, and their suicide notes.
But now Grigory could crystallise his songs. He could edit and loop and tweak until he had the essence of the thing, trapped forever on media as intangible as he had once been before he was a thing of flesh. Gone were the hissing gramophones, the record players, the cassette tapes. Now music was electronic, portable, and stored in vast quantities on devices no bigger than his thumb. How far the world had come since the time when Grigory sat by a fire in the desert and taught a girl with eyes as black as his own to play a sad, simple tune on pipe made of animal bone.
The song played on. Grigory wouldn’t share his latest creation with the rest of the band. This was just for him. He listened as his own voice echoed around the room, the brush of his lips against the microphone audible over the knocking of the boy’s heart and the girl’s gentle murmuring. Their terror and pleasure would have faded by now, their experience with their idol dwindled to a vague recollection of a fevered dream. They wouldn’t tell. They never did. Whether it was confusion, shame or fear which held their tongues, Grigory wasn’t sure, but they always came back. The singer had no doubt he’d see those two in the front row at one of his shows again in the future, just like all the others.
The song finished and Grigory drained his glass. He trailed his fingers over his chest, tracing around the place where his own heart used to reside, then he hit repeat.